Orlando Magic have a lot more to show after one quarter of a season

Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic rediscovered their heart in a tough back to back. But they have a lot more to show this season. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic rediscovered their heart in a tough back to back. But they have a lot more to show this season. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

102. 38. 109. 147. Final

The helplessness is often seen on the Orlando Magic’s faces. This is a team stuck in neutral and trying to grind its way out of its losing ways. But still short on answers.

More often than not, so too has been a determination to keep fighting and keep trying. But this team is playing with one hand behind its back.

With eight rotation-caliber players out for Monday’s back-to-back game in Brooklyn following a 30-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at home, the Orlando Magic were just hoping to survive and regroup some. The NBA schedule is unforgiving and the Magic had to find a way to play.

So much has been seemingly swirling around the team as frustration has mounted through the first quarter of the season. The team has shown plenty of promise and potential. But so little of it has come together.

The Orlando Magic ended the first quarter of the season with another frustrating loss as the team thinks about what it can be and the things it still needs to show this year.

As the Orlando Magic rounded the quarter mark of the season with a 109-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on Monday, the team showed the resolve to right the ship and play with an intensity and effort that had seemingly waned in the last few outings. It showed the competitive edge that characterized the first 21 games of the season.

"“I applaud our team’s effort,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday’s loss to the Nets. “I applaud their grit, their fight, the way they never let themselves get too far down. When they went on runs we battled back. And each guy contributed and that’s the team we have to continue to be.”"

After Sunday’s loss that was something of a minor victory for sure. Getting back to that baseline was key for the team.

But it was still coming in a loss. That is the reminder of all of this. Progress has not been paired with results to start the season.

The Magic do not seem to be much closer to pulling together wins, “leveling up” or taking those all-important steps. The little plays are still missing to put the team over the top and get them the wins they desire.

The Magic finished the first quarter of the season with a seven-point loss to the Nets, bringing their record to 5-16. A disappointing start to a season that holds a ton of promise.

Still, Orlando has plenty of reasons to be encouraged. And the team is eager to get some health as the season progresses. But the game the Magic played Monday should be more of a norm with its effort and energy. Even if the team is making mistakes.

It is the kind of game they have played most of this early part of the season, putting themselves in a position to win.

Of course, not every opponent has a player like Kevin Durant, who can brilliantly take over games and put teams away on his own.

Durant went to work with 19 of his 45 points in the third quarter as he shot a blistering 19 for 24 from the floor. That was enough to cancel out any effort the Magic put in.

Orlando was still too depleted to survive a superstar effort from Durant. The team still had to run some minutes with both Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner off the floor and the team simply could not rely on its bench for much of anything.

Orlando saw very clearly that effort and urgency even in this depleted state can keep the team in games. That has been the case through much of the first 21 games.

Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero are talented enough to lift the team and keep them afloat as they learn to be primary creators and scorers in this league.

Banchero scored 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting, at times taking it right at Durant and hitting tough shots over him. Wagner had his moments too, driving to the basket and finishing, playing through foul trouble for 21 points.

Bol Bol again proved to be a huge offensive problem for the Nets. He scored 24 points and was deadly in transition and semi-transition, drawing cheers from the road crowd.

Orlando’s defense showed an activity it had not shown for much of the season. There was an urgency to get deflections and get out on the break — 18 turnovers for 24 points and 32 fast-break points, an uncharacteristically high number for the Magic this season.

But the game came down, as it always does, to the little plays the Magic are not making consistently.

Orlando missed nine free throws, going 13 for 22. The team settled for some bad shots and forced mid-range jumpers rather than trusting the ball movement that helped them stay in the game. Orlando finished with just 18 assists for the game once again.

The Nets too gathered offensive rebounds at a rate far above their average, grabbing eight for 14 points. They all seemed to come at big points to break any momentum.

Having Durant is a bonus for sure. The Magic started doubling him as they desperately tried to get back into the game and get the ball out of his hands. But he made the right play every time and the ball worked quickly to an open player.

The Magic cut into a double-digit deficit and never quit. But like so many other moments in the season so far, it was not enough. The Magic fought the good fight but came out with a loss.

If the first quarter of the season established the Magic’s potential and ability to compete more often than not, then the rest of the season needs to be about learning how to win more consistently.

That will come with getting healthy. It is so painfully obvious how much the Magic need its full complement of players. it is nearly impossible to win missing eight rotation-level players. That is for any team let alone one as young as this Magic team.

There seems like there will be some relief there soon. But the Magic need to understand they need to play with a consistency of effort that has at times been missing.

They need to learn to be detail oriented especially in the fourth quarter to close games out. Their decisions need to be sharper and better when the game is on the line. That has certainly not always been the case as the team has struggled to a 3-9 record in clutch situations.

There is a lot of work this team needs to do. The team’s record is a sign of that as much as anything.

Next. Moe Wagner will help Orlando Magic improve. dark

The Magic continue to show what they might one day be. That has been the case throughout the first quarter of the season. But there is a lot more to do to take the steps the franchise wants to take this season.